Bloomberg Radio

How Black Talk Jocks Sold ‘We Like Mike’ to African Americans

Fiercely competitive African American radio personalities led by Pierre "Pepe" Sutton of Inner City Broadcasting and Bob Slade of Emmis Communications waged an on-air assault against Mark Green in the waning days of one of the most divisive mayoral races in the city's history.

The carpet bombing of the Green campaign—an angry, uncoordinated response to the racial profiling of Reverend Al Sharpton and Fernando Ferrer by Green and some of his white aides—may have swayed the 25 percent of black voters who helped put novice Republican Michael Bloomberg over the top. Daily, up-to-the-minute commentaries were so openly anti-Green that some listeners teasingly began to refer to WLIB-AM, WWRL-AM, WBLS-FM, and WRKS-FM as "Bloomberg Radio." Slade, the moderate lead anchor on WRKS's The Open Line and The Week in Review, suggested that the stations be dubbed "the 25 percenters" for changing the minds of that percentage of black voters.

To those who criticize his stations for currying favor with Bloomberg, the general manager of WLIB and WBLS, Kernie Anderson, noted that former mayor David Dinkins, Green's most vocal black supporter, hosts Dialogue with Dinkins on WLIB, and openly campaigned for the public advocate on his show. On the other hand, Anderson pointed out, Sharpton, who backed Ferrer, co-hosts Sharp Talk with ultra-black nationalist Alton Maddox, and stumped for Ferrer on his program.

Fatiyn Muhammad, the politically connected producer of The Open Line and The Week in Review, said that after Green's camp complained that this reporter, who was a guest co-host on The Open Line, was too tough on Green when he appeared on the show in early October. Muhammad said that when Green rejected an invitation to return, he offered the entire hour to the mayoral hopeful. Five days before the election, however, Green backed out and instead recommended hip hop mogul Russell Simmons, who had disparaged Ferrer in a New York Post article, referring to the Bronx borough president as "this Puerto Rican guy."

"I told them that we are not going to bring on any of Mark Green's surrogates," Muhammad recalled. "After The Open Line on the Sunday before the election, one of Green's people called and asked to substitute Reverend Floyd Flake. I told her, 'First you give us Russell Simmons, now you give us Floyd Flake. That's insulting to our show and to our audience.' "

Queens-based WWRL, which is owned by Access 1 Communications, was the first black station to court Bloomberg. Early in the campaign, Bloomberg found a sympathetic ear in famed broadcast journalist and DJ Rennie Bishop, the station's program director, who co-hosts The Morning Show with Sabrina Lamb. At the outset, Bishop grilled Bloomberg on racially motivated stops and frisks and police brutality, two issues of paramount concern to undecided black voters. "They [cops] have to tell you why you were stopped and apologize if they don't arrest you, and [the NYPD will] have somebody call later on to make sure they did," Bloomberg promised. "Those kinds of things are practical. . . . "

In a follow-up complaint, Bishop brought up the "S" word. "[S]ince Mayor Giuliani has been in office he has refused to sit and dialogue with prominent African American leader Reverend Al Sharpton; would you meet with Reverend Sharpton, at least to hear his views and understand what [his] concerns are if you are elected mayor?" Bloomberg's affirmative response resounded with black listeners.

"If I am the mayor, I will meet with anybody who represents a significant number of the electorate," he said. "I think that you have to be the mayor of all the people. I think you have to get everybody's views, and it has nothing to do with whether you agree or disagree." Bloomberg was interviewed on three separate occasions, on air, by Bishop and Lamb.

When it was all over, Green had received 75 percent of the black vote—10 percent less than a Democratic mayoral candidate would ordinarily get. "But that 10 percent difference that went to Bloomberg could be attributed to the activist role black radio played in allowing Bloomberg to appeal to the black community," asserted Inner City's Anderson.

** Two weeks before the election, African Americans jammed the switchboards of the black radio stations and black-oriented programs on WRKS, responding to emotional appeals for racial justice by talk-jock firebrands such as Charles "the Cutman" Ethridge, James "The Third Answer" Mtume, Bob Pickett, Mark Riley, and Conrad Muhammad. The radio activists—all avowed Democrats with the exception of Muhammad, a former Nation of Islam minister, and Pickett, a conservative Republican—went full tilt for Bloomberg.

Because of his vow to defend the controversial legacy of Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the liberal Democrat-turned-Republican had been cast in the unseemly role of a billionaire Barabbas by some black and Latino voters, who in their vengeful attempt to crucify the Great White Hope—Mark Green—themselves were accused of rejecting a savior.

"Inner City Broadcasting has never before broken with its Democratic roots," declared Sutton in his Editorial on Our Times, which ran on WLIB and WBLS. "After two consecutive disappointing political seasons, one for the presidency and recently for a Democratic mayoralty," he added, "it may be difficult to maintain focus on the goal of political empowerment—but maintain we must. . . . We cannot allow the Democratic Party to take our votes for granted."

Next Page »